The new French President Francois Hollande made a promise during his campaign to legalize gay marriage. Since 1999, couples in France have been allowed to enter into civil unions, whether straight or gay. But Wednesday, Hollande’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault confirmed that the law will soon be changed and that gay couples will be allowed to get married and adopt children. Gay organizations in France are welcoming the government’s announcement.
Anchor Marco Werman talks to the BBC’s David Chazan who has been covering the story in Paris.
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Marco Werman: The new French president Francois Hollande made a campaign promise of legalizing gay marriage. Since 1999 couples in France have been allowed to enter into civil unions, whether straight or gay, but today Hollande’s prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, confirmed that the law will soon be changed. The BBC’s David Chazan has been covering the news from Paris, and David, tell our listeners, first of all, what civil union in France was and how this law will change that.
David Chazan: Well, civil union will continue to exist. As you said, it was introduced in 1999 and it applies to both homosexual and heterosexual couples who don’t want to get married, but who want to publicly make a commitment to each other. So these civil unions are recognized by the state, but civil unions do not confer the same sort of inheritance or parenting rights as marriage, and that is something that same-sex couples have been lobbying for for a long time, on both inheritance and the right to adopt children, and it looks like that’s what they will get from next year because Francois Hollande wants to give same-sex couples exactly the same rights as heterosexual ones.
Werman: Now, Prime Minister Ayrault said that the law will come into effect early next year, and its passage is really in response, he said, to changes in society, lifestyle, and attitudes in France. I’m wondering how much of a surprise this was, this law, and what has changed in France?
Chazan: Well, it didn’t come as a surprise at all. It’s been expected, and it was one of the planks of Francois Hollande’s presidential campaign. What has changed in France is interesting. About ten or fifteen years ago, a majority of French people opposed gay marriage. Now, more than 60 percent of French people are in favor of gay marriage, to the point where I think it’s fair to say that it’s really only a very small minority of French people who are still against it.
Werman: Now, you’re in Paris, David. How have the French there reacted from what you’ve seen, or do those poll numbers pretty much suggest that people wanted this and it’s there now?
Chazan: People wanted it, people expected it, and there’s been hardly any reaction here at all, simply because people have been focusing on the other things that the prime minister had to say about the economy. I did speak to a gay rights organization this morning, and they said, well, this is wonderful news, they have issued statements saying they welcome this move, of course, and they also told me that there were going to be queues of people lining up to get married when the law does change. I think the only controversial issue that’s left as far as gay couples are concerned in France is not marriage but adoption. Now, the opinion polls still show that most French people support giving gay couples the right to adopt, but the figures are a bit lower than they are for marriage. Now, I think the reason for that is because a lot of people feel that bringing up children should be done by a man and a woman, and there are fears, particularly in the case of male homosexual couples, that men are more likely to be sexual predators than women, and so that’s why they’re a bit worried about the notion of two men bringing up children on their own. But what the gay rights groups are saying in response to that is, well there’s nothing to suggest that gay men are any more likely to be sexual predators than heterosexual men.
Werman: David, final question. If those queues, those lines, to snag the first gay marriage in France do transpire early next year, where is the big place in Paris where we can expect to see those lines?
Chazan: I think it’s going to be somewhere around the Marais, because that is the gay quarter of Paris, and I think if there is any action like that, that’s where it’ll happen.
Werman: The BBC’s David Chazan in Paris. Thank you so much.
Chazan: Thank you.
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